Study Shows Vitamin D Prevents Major Pregnancy Complications

sun in trees

An important 2009 study shows that Vitamin D plays a very important role in preventing pregnancy complications. This is in addition to other studies that demonstrate the importance of getting enough of the sunshine vitamin while pregnant.

This particular study, carried out by Dr. Bruce Hollis and Dr. Carol Wagner of the Medical University of South Carolina, gave 600  women of various races, 4000 IU of Vitamin D per day, and followed them throughout their pregnancies and beyond (for 2.5 years). The control group received 400 IU per day, the official recommended amount of Vitamin D.

In the group receiving 4000 IU of Vitamin D, there were half the premature births as the c0ntrol group. Fewer babies who were “small for date” were born in the 4000 IU group. The treatment group also had 25% fewer infections. The “core morbidities” of pregnancy were reduced by 30%; these include diabetes, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure. Additionally, babies getting extra Vitamin D also suffered from fewer colds and less eczema after birth. In other words, consuming 4000 IU of Vitamin D per day, 10 times the RDA, was associated with better health of mother and child. And, during the course of the study, there were no adverse effects reported from taking that much Vitamin D.

Sadly, many Americans have now lost the ability to make Vitamin D because we are in the autumn, and the sun’s rays are not strong enough to cause our skins to produce Vitamin D. This means many mothers (and babies) will be at risk of preventable pregnancy complications, unless they take Vitamin D supplements.

Sun and Speed: Why Sunshine And Movement Are Essential To Your Health

fall landscape

No, I am not talking about doing drugs outdoors, but I’m referring to what ancient man (and woman) often experienced. They got a lot of sun, and they probably moved a lot, and it is safe to say that this is what we are probably the life we are meant to experience. While most of us may enjoy sitting down in a temperature-controlled room, we really aren’t physiologically wired to have this sort of experience every day of the year.

Think about it. When, in the history of humankind, until very recently, did people stay inside so much, and do such little activity?  The upper classes, few in number, perhaps had such an experience, but most did not. In fact, most people throughout human history have spent long hours outside and have been, whether as wandering nomads, hunter-gatherers, or simply working the fields, on the move.

You can’t take a human body, designed to be outside, and on the move, and stick it at an desk inside for 10 hours a day, and/or on a couch for 5 hours a day inside, and expect health and happiness. And this could be why many Americans are unhealthy and feel so darn unhappy.

There are many good reasons to actually be out in the sun, and one is Vitamin D production.  Studies show that many diseases are tied to low Vitamin D levels, including autism, cancer, depression, and multiple sclerosis, diseases becoming more common as Americans spend less-and-less time in the sun. While it is true too much sun exposure can increase the risk of easily treatable forms of skin cancer, and increase the rate that your skin will look “ridden hard and put away wet,” as local good-ol boys describe it, sun exposure likely helps prevent difficult-to-treat cancers like breast and colon cancer.

Ok, we need some sun, but do we need speed? Likely. One example is a study that shows that runners live significantly longer than non-runners, in part because running encourages new nerve growth.  And combining the two for some sun and speed, has some benefits as well.  For example, one study found that while exercising indoors reduced depression by 45% , exercising outdoors decreased depression by 71%, almost double the indoor rate. So basically, moving outside is much more effective at treating depression than exercising indoors. This could explain that while exercising at the Y can sometimes be a chore, I rarely have to be prodded to run outside, over the hills outside my old high school.

I often ponder these things while I am running outside, for example, yesterday in the blistering heat, which limited my time outside. One thing I thought of is that in the last 20+ years, we have been taught to value being inside, and honestly, to fear the outside. It seems as if parents are so worried about what may possibly happen to a child, that a lot of the stuff I did growing up outside (that kids had done for years earlier) is now off-limits. So, since a child can’t go outside and play at noon (the sun is too hot and a weird looking redneck just walked by), he sits inside glued to the computer, not that he would even want to go outside anyway, because he can just “go outside” on his video game.  Then when he does go outside for real, the sun has a kind of “it burns, it burns” feel, and being weighed down by too  many bags of snack-size Cheetos, he runs (not literally, of course) for cover for the nearest air-conditioned building. I am basically describing myself as a middle-schooler, except that my mom was never hysterical, and did encourage us to play outside, although since the Nintendo was inside, I often stayed there.

Basically, the point is my post is that a lot of our modern problems, including depression and chronic diseases (like cancer) could be related to the fact that our modern way of living is just contrary to our wiring. Instead of immediately reaching for expensive drugs, long courses of therapy, or self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or partying, we may just need a little more sun and a little more speed*. Of course, I say this while I type inside with the AC turned up…

* – Obviously depression is a real condition, and it is important to seek a doctor’s advice before going on or off depression medication, or before beginning an exercise program.

Crazy Vitamin D Deal From Swanson

Swanson Vitamins is currently running a buy one-get one deal on Vitamin D 2000 IU. Right now, the price is $6.39 for 500 capsules. That is right, for 500 capsules! I thought the normal deal, $6.39 for 250 capsules, was pretty good itself, but this is just amazing. 

I don’t know how long this deal will last, but I can tell you that I ordered 3 of them (for a total of 1500 capsules) yesterday. I should note that Swanson tends to be conservative on their estimates of expiration. From my observations, they seem to say their products expire 2 years from the date of manufacture. This seems too conservative to me.  Based on the expiration dates of other reputable companies, I have concluded you can effectively add 1.5 years (18 months) to Swanson’s expiration dates without worry of major potency loss. This means that taking full advantage of this sale (i.e. buying 1500 capsules) will safely last you for awhile!

PS – We have only updated this blog sporadically as of late. We hope to start posting regularly again, but alas, life happens!

Amazing News on Vitamin D and Breast Cancer

summer path

Despite what you may be thinking, this is not a Vitamin D blog, although I do just happen to read a lot of news about Vitamin D, and this is the case because Vitamin D is making the news a lot lately. A new study, which I saw little trace of in the mainstream media, suggests Vitamin D is a potent cancer preventative agent, and extends the life of cancer patients.

The study measured 25-Hydroxyvitamin D (Calcidiol) levels in 512 women (around age 50) over the course of 12 years, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the early stages. They divided women into three types of Vitamin D blood levels, “deficient” (< 50 nmol/L), “insufficient” (50 to 72 nmol/L), and “sufficient” (> 72 nmol/L). What they found after 12 years was that those women who were “deficient” had higher risk of both cancer recurrence and of death. What percentage of higher risk of cancer recurrence did those deficient in Vitamin D have? Take a guess.

Was it 10%? No

Was it 20% No

30%? No

50% Keep going

75%? Nope

85%? Still higher

94%. Yes, those who were deficient in Vitamin D had a 94% increased risk of breast cancer than those who had sufficient levels of the Vitamin.

And what was the difference in death risk? Those with deficient levels of Vitamin D had a 73% increased risk of death from breast cancer than those with high levels of Vitamin D.

The researchers admit that to get blood levels this high requires supplementation at around 4000 IU/day, depending of course, on sun exposure and other factors such as body size. Considering the RDA is only 400 IU, and the “upper daily limit” is 2000 IU, this seems quite high. The reality is that the RDA and upper daily limit are ridiculously low. 400 IU is enough Vitamin D to prevent the most obvious deficiency disease: rickets. However, we need much more Vitamin D than this to prevent other problems, and our bodies make more than 2000 IU after being in the sun for 10-15 minutes. These realities make the current RDA look ridiculously low.

If a study like this came out regarding a drug, you can be it would be hailed the miracle drug of the decade. Instead, it is just lowly Vitamin D that is working these wonders. Heck, it is available for free most of the year just by going outside…perhaps an impressive irony given the amount of money spent each year researching cancer treatments and paying for them.

More on Vitamin D and H1N1 Swine Flu

hill horizon

Vitamin D and its relationship to influenza is much-discussed recently, and is a connection I find interesting. Lately, the Vitamin D Council, led by Dr. John Cannell, has been trying to determine if there is a connection between H1N1 and Vitamin D. Just because it appears that a connection exists between seasonal flu and Vitamin D does not mean Vitamin D prevents the pandemic flu.

Recently, Cannell sent out two emails that explain the experiences that two doctors have had with Vitamin D and H1N1. Both emails, summarized here, suggest that Vitamin D helps prevent the current strain of H1N1. Of course, these case studies are not conclusive and definitive, but they are interesting early research that should be investigated further (also, since Vitamin D is cheap, and many of us are deficient, upping our Vitamin D levels is a good idea even if it doesn’t prevent pandemic influenza.

The first case involves nursing home patients receiving regular Vitamin D supplementation. 103 of the 800 staff members working at the home contracted H1N1, while only 2 of 275 residents did. Even excluding 43 staff members whose diagnosis may be suspect, the difference between the flu rates among staff and residents is statistically significant, i.e., it is very likely this was not due to chance. Less than 1% of residents became sick, while 7.5% of the staff did, which was a tenfold increase in infections among the group not definitively taking Vitamin D.

The second case comes from a doctor in Wisconsin. This doctor regularly monitors Vitamin D levels in her patients, and makes sure their levels are high. She has seen no cases of flu yet, whereas her colleague, who does not monitor Vitamin D, is seeing 1-10 cases of flu-like illness a week. Anecdotal? yes. However, it does provide food-for-thought.

I know I talk about Vitamin D a lot. There is a reason. Humans are supposed to get regular sun exposure, period. It is, and has been, the common experience of mankind since our inception. Could it be that many of our diseases are the result of living in a way that defies our very nature, i.e. are we inside too much? Vitamin D is not a miracle drug, no more than oxygen would be a miracle drug in a world in which most people denied themselves optimal levels of it. Sun exposure is a basic part of living optimally as a human, so it is no puzzle as to why modern Westerners are so depressed and sick.

Fortunately, even in times when the sun is weak (the late fall, winter, and early spring), Vitamin D is cheap and readily available. Right now, for example, Swanson Vitamins is running a sale, in which 500 capsules of 1000 IU/cap Vitamin are only $5.79. That is a 100 day supply of the amount Cannell recommends taking,  5000 IU/day (in conjunction with a Vitamin D blood test). Considering many drugs cost this much per pill, Vitamin D is cheap.

Image taken  by me

Vitamin D and H1N1 Swine Flu

I have been intrigued by research about the relationship between Vitamin D and influenza, so I often wondered how this relationship could stand the scientific scrutiny of events associated with the 1918 flu pandemic, where individuals with presumably the highest Vitamin D levels (young people) died readily, while those who likely had low levels (African-Americans) lived. Dr. Cannell of the Vitamin D Council recently addressed this issue in the newest Council newsletter.

Cannell argues that the reason so many with low Vitamin D levels survived the worst outbreak of the 1918 flu is that they became relatively immune because many were infected earlier by a weaker, less deadly, strain. In other words, their low Vitamin D levels (hence, a lower resistance to the flu) was beneficial because they got sick from the milder, earlier, form of the 1918 flu. Interesting.

Cannell also examines the relationship of current H1N1 deaths to Vitamin D, and concludes that the majority of children who have died so far are likely Vitamin Deficient. He argues that since 2/3 of those who died had neuro-developmental conditions like epilepsy or mental retardation, they most likely spent little time in the sun, and when they did, were probably covered with sunblock. Many also probably took medications that caused a deficiency of Vitamin D. Cannell also observes that in Boston and Chicago, research shows that African-Americans have been hospitalized more for H1N1 than other races. Again, he takes this as evidence of a Vitamin D connection to the current Swine flu (because darker skinned individuals require more sun exposure to make Vitamin D, which is not a problem for those living close to the equator, but darker skinned individuals in most parts of North America are often deficient).

This is all intriguing. I can say that since I have taken higher doses of Vitamin D in the winter (anywhere from 1000-3000 IU/day), I haven’t gotten the flu. Last year I didn’t get the flu shot either. This, of course, proves nothig in a strict scientific sense, since I am but one case, and since my healthy lifestyle offers protection against the flu as well, but since I am convinced Vitamin D is beneficial in other areas of my life, I will continue to take it, hoping it also helps my body defend against a possible H1N1 innfection.

Vitamin D and Schizophrenia

sunny day 2

The newest newsletter of the Vitamin D Council addresses the issue of Vitamin D and Schizophrenia is depth, and it appears that since Schizophrenia is a disease that takes a long time to develop (sometimes 25 years), prenatal maternal environmental factors play an important role in the development of Schizophrenia.

Researchers at Harvard (Kinney, Huang, et. al.) released a paper looking at the role of environmental factors in Schizophrenia. They looked at three environmental factors that may trigger Schizophrenia

– Poor prenatal care

– Low Omega-3 fat consumption (i.e. not enough fatty acids from fish)

– Prenatal exposure to infections, esp. influenza

Here are the key points that Dr. Cannell of the Vitamin D Council points out, which show that maternal Vitamin D deficiency may cause Schizophrenia later in life:

First, the highest prevalence of Schizophrenia is in Canada, near the Arctic circle, while the lowest prevalence is near the Equator. While not proving that Vitamin D deficiency causes Schizophrenia, it certainly starts the investigation!

Second, in the analysis, prenatal care did not have an effect on the prevalence of Schizophrenia around the equator; in other words, if your mother and you had bad prenatal care, you still didn’t get Schizophrenia later in life, if you lived around the equator. However, in extreme latitudes, individuals whose mothers received poor prenatal care were more likely to have Schizophrenia.

Third, at the equator, fish consumption did not affect Schizophrenia prevalence, but it did affect prevalence for the subjects studied farther away from Equator. Basically, the connection from this is that it wasn’t the Omega-3 fats from fish that made the difference, but the Vitamin D in the fish (although Omega-3 fats are certainly necessary).

Fourth, it is known that dark-skinned individuals have higher rates of Schizophrenia. However, this only holds true in dark-skinned individuals in latitudes far from the equator, and not near the equator (where even people of very dark skin make plenty of Vitamin D).

All of these factors suggest that maternal exposure to sunlight (or Vitamin D consumption) is, according to Cannell, not just a cause of Schizophrenia, but the cause.

Food for thought.

Vitamin D and African-Americans

Recently I came across two interesting articles about Vitamin D deficiency in African-Americans, and the possible effects this widespread deficiency is having on the black community. Because of their dark skin, it takes blacks 2-5 times longer time in the sun to make Vitamin D than it takes white people. As a result, many African-Americans in the United States and Canada are Vitamin D deficient, especially black teens (black teens are 20 times more likely to be Vitamin D deficient than white teens). Dark skin is actually an adaptation to prolonged sun exposure, so Africans living in sub-Saharan Africa would make plenty of Vitamin D under normal conditions, but when living in northern areas, their skins have difficulty making the vitamin). Traditionally, peoples living far north, like the Inuits, have adapted by eating foods high in Vitamin D (in their traditional diets), but modern diets of people living in northern areas have very little Vitamin D.

Almost exactly two years ago, the blog Acting White posted about Vitamin D and Learning Disadvantages in Black Children. In it, the author (James Collier), argues that rampant Vitamin D deficiency among black mothers and black children is giving them a strong neuro-developmental disadvantage throughout life. As Collier points out, Vitamin D is cheap and beneficial for every race.

Another article I was reading, points out that blacks have lower cancer survival rates than whites, even at the same stage of cancer, and using the same treatment. Some researches have concluded that a Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for this disparity. In a study published in the journal of the AMA, it was found that summertime UV-B doses were inversely associated with incidences of major cancers in African-Americans, which means that the less UV-B rays a person was exposed to, the higher the rate of cancer. Again, according to the same article, a study found that blood levels of Calcidiol, equivalent to an intake of 1000 IU/day of Vitamin D, reduced the risk of colon cancer by 50%. While white Americans do not achieve this level, whites, on average, have 50 to 67% of the proper Calcidiol level. However, blacks, on average, only have 33 to 50% of the level.

Vitamin D deficiency is something that we all have to address, but it seems like African-Americans would benefit from exploring supplementation with Vitamin D, since blacks living in most of the U.S. and Canada have a disadvantage when it comes to making Vitamin D.

The Importance of Vitamin D and Pregnancy

sunny day

Preeclampsia. Diabetes. Autism. Schizophrenia. And more. The solution to these problems, affecting both mothers and children, may be Vitamin D. Read on.

The newest newsletter from the Vitamin D Council has been released and it is loaded with research related to Vitamin D and pregnancy. Please allow me to summarize the newsletter’s content (which is free of copyright), but be sure to check out the actual newsletter. All of this is based on actual research. Keep in mind that when I speak of Vitamin D blood levels, I am actually speaking of blood calcidiol, 25(OH)D, levels. Calcidiol is a pre-hormone produced by the liver after Vitamin D is metabolized. Many experts believe this is the only reliable test of blood Vitamin D levels.

Research shows that pregnant women are very vitamin D deficient. In the three studies cited, 95% of pregnant women, yes 95%, did not have optimal levels of Vitamin D in their bloodstream. Pre-natal vitamins, which usually contain only 400 IU of Vitamin D (the body manufactures 5 times this on your average sun exposure), had little effect on raising Vitamin D levels.

So what are the consequences of sub-optimal Vitamin D levels for the pregnant mother? Well, see for yourself:

– One study showed that those with low Vitamin D levels were much more likely to have Caesarian sections. The number of C-sections has dramatically increased since 1970, from 5% of pregnancies then, to 30% today. Guess what? Those women who had optimal Vitamin D levels in this study had C-section rates identical to the 1970 rate: 5%.

– One study demonstrated that low vitamin D blood levels result in a 5-fold increase in the risk of preeclampsia.

– Another study found that those with low vitamin D levels (virtually every pregnant woman) were at a 3-fold risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy

Now, what about children? How does low Vitamin D during pregnancy affect a mother’s child?

– A paper published recently connects low Vitamin D levels during pregnancy with Schizophrenia, on account of inappropriate fetal brain development.

– There is much speculation about Vitamin D and Autism, and the role sunshine and Vitamin D play in its development. I wrote on this previously.

– One study (which is considered racially charged, because it shows some races may have more mentally retarded individuals) suggests that Vitamin D may have a role in preventing mental retardation.

– Women with the lowest Vitamin D levels during pregnancy were much more likely to have their newborns in Intensive Care Units because of Lower Respiratory Tract Infections.

– Low levels of Vitamin D during pregnancy are associated with lower birth weight.

– Cod Liver Oil (a source of Vitamin D) given during pregnancy is associated with a 3-fold decrease in the rate of juvenile diabetes later.

– Vitamin D may prevent idiopathic infant heart failure.

– Researchers have discovered that children with very serious brain tumors (astrocytomas and ependymomas) were more likely to be born in the winter, when Vitamin D levels are low.

– Epileptics are also more likely to be born in the winter.

– Craniotabes (softening of the skull in infants) is likely a Vitamin D deficiency, and not “normal.”

– Cavities are more common in children whose mothers had low Vitamin D levels.

So what are pregnant mothers deficient in Vitamin D to do?

Well, first and foremost, I am not a doctor, and you should consult with a doctor before taking any supplement during pregnancy. I can say that Drs. Scholl and Chen, of the Department of Obstetrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, have suggested that pregnant women need 6000 IU of Vitamin D per day. A study I linked to a few months ago, suggested the same thing of lactating women, that they need 6,000 IU per day to have adequate levels. A little sun would easily supply this amount.

Another Study on Vitamin D and MS

I have mentioned before that it is possible that Vitamin D plays a role in the prevention and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis, and a new study seems to confirm this. I become more impressed with Vitamin D every day as I read more and more studies. In fact, in a few days I have a pretty big post about Vitamin D and pregnancy coming.

I have been trying to get a lot of sun lately. I really eat up the sun. I usually put sunblock on my face, legs, and forearms this time of year (because they have gotten a lot of sun exposure by now), whereas I tend to do work around the house (or run outside, if I am in the country) without a shirt, if I have a degree of privacy. I try my best to balance the need for free Vitamin D with the damage the sun might do (both cancer and wrinkles).